Tuesday, March 22, 2011

10 thoughts on the Big 10

There are lots of stories and opinions this morning about the Big Ten finally announcing its intention to add men's hockey as a sport and what that will do to the WCHA and the rest of the college hockey world. Here are a few thoughts, links and opinions to ponder:

1. Supposedly, the Big Ten waited until Monday to make its announcement in order to let the conference tournaments have the spotlight. Yet the specter of the impending announcement seemed to hang over the Final Five all weekend. When it came to the hockey, at least, the WCHA didn't need the Big Ten to make it successful.

2. Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman said he's optimistic that the Mavericks will come out of this with a similar schedule to what it has now and is counting on Minnesota and Wisconsin to do what's in the best interest of college hockey. Buisman did admit that there is some concern about those teams not playing in Mankato but also pumped up the WCHA as still being the best college hockey conference.

3. Speaking of scheduling, there are some different opinions out there as to what a scheduling agreement between the Big Ten and the WCHA/CCHA would look like. USCHO's Todd Milewski believes that at least 10 of the Big Ten team's nonconference games will be played at home. Chris Dilks think that's ridiculous or at least selfish. CHN's Adam Wodon is concerned that the Big Ten didn't wait until a scheduling agreement was in place before making its big announcement.

4. My opinion? I'm with Milewski. The Big Ten teams will have no choice but to play teams from their old conferences. With 14 nonconference games to schedule, it will be a no-brainer for Minnesota to play MSU, St. Cloud, Duluth and Bemidji. But I think they'll do it at Mariucci. What will be the incentive for the Gophers to go to Mankato? The good of the game? Especially when they're playing Minnesota teams whose fans would travel to Minneapolis, I believe they'll play in their 10,000-seat building.

a) Gophers coach Don Lucia said: "We want to play our natural rivals as much as we possibly can. There is great history there."

b) At least MSU would leave Minneapolis and Madison with a nice check.

5. Unless ... I had a recent conversation with someone associated with MSU who said the WCHA would be wise to make a unified effort in its negotiations and get a "home-and-home" scheduling arrangement with the Big Ten. Of course, that might mean MSU draws Penn State and Ohio State in Mankato instead of Wisconsin and Minnesota, but that could be interesting, too. 

a) The Wisconsin State Journal reported that a proposal has been put forth to the WCHA that would create "two blocks of opponents that will be rotated over the course of four to five years."

6. What about the conference championship? As I wrote about today and linked to in Item 1, this year's Big Ten-less Final Five was pretty successful, both in attendance and in the quality of the games. The X seemed like Ralph Engelstad Arena South with all of the North Dakota fans there. Rumor is that the Big Ten wants to have its tournament in Chicago, which would leave the X available for the WCHA. Will the X still want it? Will Fox Sports still want to televise it? Will the Final Five be able to command the same kind of money once even the possibility of Minnesota and Wisconsin being in the tournament is no longer there? Will the Twin Cities college-hockey fan still follow the WCHA when the Gophers are gone to the Big Ten? 

a) If not St. Paul, what towns would work for the Final Five? Omaha? Grand Forks? Denver? Duluth? Fargo? Des Moines?

7. How will the WCHA look in 2013-14? Without Minnesota and Wisconsin, will the WCHA be content to go back to 10 teams, with MSU, North Dakota, St. Cloud, Duluth, Bemidji, Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage, Nebraska-Omaha, Denver and Colorado College? Would the WCHA try to poach two more teams away from the CCHA? There have been rumors of Miami and Notre Dame (the CCHA's top remaining programs after the Big Ten teams leave). Alaska (Fairbanks) and Air Force have been mentioned.

a) Right now, I'm inclined to keep it at 10 games and go back to the scheduling format that puts each team in another's building three of every four years. The league will need to build up current rivalries with those Big Ten teams gone.

b) What about an 18-team, two-division WCHA-CCHA super conference?

c) Will anyone take Alabama-Huntsville after this all of the dust settles?

8. Will the Big Ten ripple cause, as some hope, more schools to start college hockey programs? Penn State was helped by an $88 million startup donation. Do other Big Ten schools have hockey sugar daddies? Illinois seems like a natural fit, as do Northwestern and Iowa and Nebraska, where junior hockey is popular. What about outside the Big Ten. Iowa State has been mentioned for years because of its successful club program.

9. Who will be the power players in the WCHA with Minny and Wisco gone? North Dakota and Denver are the only across-the-board Division I schools in the conference currently, although Nebraska-Omaha is making the jump to D-I. Interesting that Minnesota AD Joel Maturi used the term "BCS conference" in the school's press release. Everyone knows that football is king in the WCHA NCAA, and there just isn't much football presence in the WCHA (UND is the old Division I-AA, Denver doesn't have football and UNO is dropping it).

a) This makes me more curious about St. Cloud State's decision to hire Gino Gasparini as a special adviser for athletics. Among his duties, according to SCSU's press release from last month is Division I programs as well as anticipated changes in the WCHA. Is St. Cloud considering going D-I? At the very least, it appears, the Huskies want a a seat at the adult table in the new WCHA.

10.  The move, of course, is two years away, so that leaves plenty of time to sort out all of the issues.


Sam said...

In regards to #9, I think it is utterly ridiculous that there is only ONE "across-the-board D1" university in the state of Minnesota.

There are only SIX states in the ENTIRE COUNTRY that have less than two full D1 universities. They are: Minnesota, Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, Maine, and Vermont. Minnesota has absolutely no business being on that list. Population size, location, and the size/facilities of some of the states largest D2 universities indicate there should be more than just ONE D1 university.

Mankato has passed up a number of chances now. So have St. Cloud State, and I believe Duluth. The argument is always that it's too expensive. Sure it is, but there are obviously benefits involved. If there weren't, would the Dakotas have two each? Would Iowa and Wisconsin have four?

In my time at MSU, school administration always talked about these big plans to make Mankato the second largest university in the state, and to increase enrollment to 20,000+. How is that going? As long as Mankato remains D2, I don't see that happening.

If St. Cloud is finally coming to their senses and thinking about taking the plunge, I sure as heck hope Mankato follows the lead of their sister school and does the same. Both universities always like to talk about how they're so similar in so many ways. That had better stay true to form if SCSU decides to take the step to increase their visibility by jumping to D1.

The largest university in the COUNTRY is (or at least has been recently) the University of Minnesota. I can't help but wonder if they might lose that title as soon as schools like UMD, SCSU, and MSU emerge from the obscurity that comes with being a D2 university.

Doug said...

Good point, Sam. I have to believe a primary reason for none of the Minnesota D-II's making the jump to D-I is the sheer number of quality D-II schools in Minnesota. It's unusual anywhere in the country to have some many D-II institutions in such close proximity (Mankato, St. Cloud, Bemidji, Duluth). Since D-II in general is shrinking as D-I and D-III classifications grow, I have to imagine a move by one of these schools would be the tipping point for other schools to follow suit.

jeff_williams said...

At least the level of play will still be the same.

What does this mean for TV? Will FSN still have just Gophers or will it be like WCHA's best matchup of the week?

Can anyone expound on the money side of playing another team? Does the home team pay a portion of ticket sales for that game to the away team?

JWGreen said...

I definitely agree with it being a "Ralph Englestad South" last week at the Xcel. I was one of those Sioux fans there (a MSU student from Grand Forks) I know the attendance was up in the 16,000 range for the Championship game and 15,000 for the semifianl, but I wonder how many of those were Gopher or Badger fans that bought their tickets early on? The next largest arena around here (other than the Target Center, but what would the point be in moving there) would be the Ralph Englestad Arena but that still only has around 12,000 capacity. Do you think the Final Five attendance will drop to that point where moving it from the Xcel wouldn't be the limiting factor for attendance?